The new chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River is Mark Hill. He was elected over the weekend and sworn in on Tuesday. He spoke with CBC Radio’s Julianne Hazlewood about wanting to create a youth and elder advisor role on band council, engage more voices, make meetings available by livestream and more.
Though only 29, he’s a veteran member of band council, first elected at the age of 19. The following has been edited for length.
Julianne Hazlewood: What’s the first thing that you want to do as chief?
Mark Hill: There’s definitely a lot of work to do. Internally, we have a lot of community issues that I’d like to get started on. We have another governance structure, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council. So, I want to try to get the dialogue started with them to see how we could better work together. Both of our councils need to come together and unite our community. So, that’s one of the priorities. Administratively, there were some internal issues that I’d like to fix. Being in council for so long, the past nine years, I’ve seen some some gaps within our administrative structure. So, I want to get to work on those right away. Communication is a big key for me, how we’re communicating back to our community members and also to our staff and things like that. Three new councillors were elected. We want to get them oriented on the issues and where we’ve been and where we want to go and start and strategize for the next four years.
JH: What’s the biggest issue facing your community right now?
MH: Well you know, there’s a few. It’s hard to just narrow it down to one. We have we have a huge communication issue happening. Our members don’t feel as though they’re being fully engaged to the decision making process. I wanted to try to look at even the role of our young people and our elders. I wouldn’t mind seeing a youth and elder advisor to the council implemented. That might help us moving forward where we have to go. But yes on both. Again just to start.
JH: What do you mean by community communication and how do people not feel engaged?
MH: I think it’s more or less when we’re consulting our community on certain projects within the community business ventures or just general in how things should go out. So, I want to look at how we can get more involvement in our overall decision-making process. I want to look at livestreaming our meetings. I know some of the local councils are just getting into that. I’d like to see that happen right away. I know not everybody is tech savvy but at least to see if they can get engaged from just watching from home and see what’s happening in general councils and meetings.
JH: You also mentioned a youth advisor. What kind of difference do you think that could make?
MH: The young people could be involved in each step of the conversation. We hope to keep them at the forefront. We do have a Six Nations youth council. I’ve been a part of that as a youth advisor to them. But I’m looking now more to engaging them at the decision-making level. It would help in terms of how we’re making decisions over the next four years.
JH: You were 19 when you became a part of council. What inspired you to get into this?
MH: When I was at that age I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. I knew that I wanted to learn more about my community and how it operated. It took my first term to really feel comfortable and being able to even speak in front of my community, here in community meeting settings and things like that. It took me some time to get comfortable and get used to the issues to be able to speak. But over the years, I’ve really gained even more of an interest to continue to learn my community and to continue to see how I could be an asset to my community and try to lead to a direction where you have to go.
JH: Ava Hill has been leader for a while. How will your leadership be different?
MH: There’s some big shoes to fill. She has been a huge help. She’s just been instrumental in many areas. I want to continue to have that advocacy level in terms of both the provincial and federal governments. We have to get our homes hooked up to the water lines without it costing an arm and a leg. We’ve got a lot of work yet to do. I just want to maintain my advocacy at both provincial and federal levels.
JH: She didn’t feel like asking people to vote a certain way. She wanted people to make up their own minds. Do you feel the same way?
MH: Yes. Exactly. It’s a personal choice. Whether our members vote or not, their voice still matters and we still have to figure out just how we are going to be engaging and making sure that their voice is heard.
JH: Last month CBC Indigenous wrote a story about bullying at the school, Oliver M. Smith. Parents there have launched a human rights complaint against the federal government. How should that be addressed?
MH: We have to take this issue very seriously. It starts at schools but it also starts in our homes here, too. And I think we need to look at how we can be creating more leaders. We’re not there yet. The federal government still controls our education in Six Nations. We really have to look into how our curriculum can best meet the needs of our students. You know, we have to really include our language and culture into our learning environment and come back to the values and our teachings. We need to develop leadership classes within our schools to best meet the needs of our students. I think we also need to talk about adults in terms of lateral violence as well. Those are big conversations and hard topics to have but we need to deal with it for the overall benefit and then we can see bullying start to dissipate and we can start to create more leadership.
It’s always come down to the issue of adequately funding it. We will continue to maintain that position. If we don’t see them attach matched funding for what we need, then it’s simple. We just won’t take it over. We’ll allow them. We do still have to figure out these gaps which are currently happening with our education system. We’re looking at ways to work with the federal government to fix those gaps. If they fund us adequately to take over, then we’ll do what we have to do.